Can you teach your Aunt to "not wash chicken"?

This summer, I enjoyed a lovely walk with my Aunts "around the hill" on a beautiful August day. They are both great cooks and have a big interest in all things food. We hadn’t seen each other in a while and they asked me how work was and what was coming up.

tumbleweed"We’re doing a campaign to encourage people not to wash raw chicken in the autumn" I said, matter-of-factly.

"Oh" they said. Tumbleweed.

Finally, after an uncomfortable silence, they added "Well, that’s doing to be a difficult one. I can’t see that going down too well". Only your Aunts, in their own lovely way, can be that direct with you.

"Oh, I know, I said. People are very passionate about washing chicken!"

We had done a lot of research this summer and found that many experienced cooks always wash chicken. When we asked them why, they said their mums did it and their mums’ mums did it and so they have always done it themselves. As far as they know, there’s nothing wrong with doing that.

"The thing is" I explained to my Aunts, "Almost all chicken carries a bacteria called Campylobacter. If you wash it, you just spread those bugs around your kitchen, which can land on anything that’s near your sink, like your clean dishes in the rack, or on your dish cloth. Or things you might eat like fruit. By cooking chicken properly, you kill all the bacteria anyway, so basically washing doesn’t do any good and might actually cause some harm".

Like my aunts and the home cooks we spoke with, it will take a bit of persuading to get them to change a habit of a lifetime. One fact that did seem to catch their imagination was that the bacteria can travel up to 80 cm if you wash it. That’s about an arm’s length.

dont wash your chicken badgeSo next time you’re thinking of washing chicken, get a measuring tape and open it out to 80 cm. Hold it out from your body and turn a full circle to see how far the bacteria would splash in your house. What would it land on?

Posted: 06/11/2014 15:07:37 by Aileen McGloin
Filed under: Campylobacter, chicken, Food poisoning, Food safety

About Me

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Aileen McGloin
Hi, my name is Aileen McGloin and I am the Director of Marketing and Communications, at safefood. I trained as a public health nutritionist originally and am passionate about changing food-related behaviour. I have a particular interest in using digital technology to promote health. At home, I love books, am in a book club and married to a crime writer. I’m a fiend for all things fashion and like walking, swimming and TV that is so bad it’s good. I live in Co. Wicklow with my husband and 10 year old daughter.